It's always good to start the new year with a look back at things past - it's a chance for us to make sure we don't repeat the same mistakes if nothing else! And if we look back to Charles Fort we can see how much things have changed.
Whilst working on his collection of data of the damned Fort had to travel to major library collections and fortunately he had a bequest which meant he could devote the necessary time to his researches. Availability and ease of access were major issues for Fort and for many who followed in his footsteps, but look at the situation now in 2008. We have the internet - communication with fellow researchers of any of our Fortean interests is a lot quicker than good old snail mail - we can even carry out real time conversations through the net without the previously prohibitive phone call charges of the past. The net itself is a vast and ever changing resource - we can check and recheck facts to our hearts content. Ok anyone can put up a web page and say anything they want but looking at one source isn't research - it's plagarism! Cross checking of information is so much easier now, what would have taken months in the past can be accomplished in days if not hours.
Many reports of interest are originally published in newspapers and journals - many of which have online archives which are searchable. I popped the phrase "mermaid" into the online archive section of The Scotsman newspaper and produced a range of hits from 1817 onwards. And each one was accompanied by a pdf of the original article - how long would it have taken me to search all edtions of the paper - either paper copies (if I could get hold of them) or on microfiche? And how many mistakes would I have made? Being realistic the online search engine may have made mistakes but there are probably less than I would have made! This makes research of articles so much easier - it's a godsend, it really is.
We've also got access to so many more books now than ever before. In real terms book prices are excellent compared to the past. People are aware of and interested in the same things we are so more and more books are getting published so more information is easily available. We even have print on demand technology which makes books available at a price we can afford whereas in the past a publisher might not have taken a risk on a niche title. Admittedly just becuase something si in a book doesn't mean it's true, just as with all other sources of information we can't leave our critical thinking outside -w estill have ot employ it to sift the evidence but we have so much more evidnce and information available now than ever before. Look at Robert's fantastic list of recommended books - I've read some of them and I know they're great and I 'm going to pop along to Amazon to buy some of the others. In the past the chances of my local bookshop having these titles in would have been vanishingly small but now I can order them and in most cases a couple of days later and they're in my sweaty little hands. Even out of print books are a mere click away. In the past tracking down an out of print title was often a nightmare but now instead of popping into second hand book shops on the off chance we can search the inventories of thousands in a few seconds. Mind it's still fun to visit the shops and to chance on either the bargain of the century or pick up an unknown title and be drawn into a whole new realm of interest!
How about if you're reading about an incident in another country? Where exactly is the location? I'm lucky to have an old edition of the Times Atlas of the World but heck I don't need it now. Google maps can show me the world in all it's glory. Click a button and I can even have satellite views or directions from A to B. Or as Mike Dash has informed us on these very blog pages we can even get photographs of the actual locations from various online resources.
If we want to get information out quickly we have blogs available to us - you're reading this aren't you? And if you want to question me or any of the other bloggers about a piece of information then with a couple of clicks of a button you're in the forum area and a discussion can ensue with anyone who wants to joining in.
It really is fantastic. We are so lucky. We have never had such a wealth of information available to us in a variety of forms, and now it's up to us - what do we do with this information? Read it. Use it. Discuss it. Disseminate it. But above all never let it stagnate.